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PFI Ban: How 2 State Police Probes Helped NIA Cast a Wider Net for Popular Front

Both Karnataka and Telangana police contributed to help the NIA crackdown on Popular Front of India.

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The NIA crackdown on Popular Front of India and the Centre banning the organisation, were triggered by a Karnataka police investigation into the murder of a BJP Yuva Morcha leader Praveen Nettaru, The Quint has learnt. However, what sealed the fate of the organisation was a 'weapon training case' which was first under the investigation of Telangana police in Nizamabad.

Here's how the NIA and state police departments linked PFI to the two cases and finally decided to go for a countrywide search and arrest operation.

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'Accused in Nettaru Murder Case Attended PFI Event'

Even before the NIA decided to crackdown on PFI leadership, Karnataka Police were onto the outfit, a senior officer said. The Quint had reported in March 2022 that the Karnataka Police was quietly probing PFI's activities.

A senior police officer who headed the investigation said that it was the Karnataka Police which alerted the NIA of PFI's "widespread activities."

"Each time we investigated a case with even remote PFI links, it was apparent that the organisation had its base in Coastal Karnataka and North Karnataka districts. It is after Harsha Jingade's murder and the hijab protests that we started looking at the outfit more closely. However, in Harsha Jingade murder case we could not establish any links between the outfit and the accused," the officer told The Quint.

Both Karnataka and Telangana police contributed to help the NIA crackdown on Popular Front of India.

Harsha Jingade's murder was not linked to PFI.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Harsha Jingade was a Bajrang Dal worker who got killed on 20 February in Shivamogga district. Hindutva organisations had accused the PFI of having orchestrated the murder. "The next prominent case that came our way was the Praveen Nettaru murder case. Here we could establish the link," the senior police officer said. How?

"We found that the prime accused in the case had attended a meeting called by the PFI one night before Praveen Nettaru's murder. Most of the accused in the case were found to have some link or the other with the PFI."
Superintendent of Police Dakshina Kannada District Rishikesh Sonawane

According to Sonawane, the details of this murder investigation was handed over to the NIA. However, the Karnataka police were not looking for the active involvement of PFI at the time. "We were doing a murder investigation, but it so happened that we found a PFI link in the case. We took time, but established this link in terms of call data records and criminal history and passed on the investigation to the NIA," Sonawane said.

Both Karnataka and Telangana police contributed to help the NIA crackdown on Popular Front of India.

A file photo of BJP Yuva Morcha leader Praveen Nettaru who was allegedly murdered at Bellare, in Dakshin Kannada District on Wednesday 27th July 2022.

(PHOTO: IANS)

Nettaru was a BJP Yuva Morcha worker who was killed in July 2022, leading to protests from Hindutva organisations. The NIA conducted searches in Kodagu, Mysuru, and Dakshina Kannada districts in connection with the cases.

"One crucial fact we discovered was that in the Praveen Nettaru case, a plan to murder him was hatched with the help of PFI workers over a period of two days. We have evidence to prove this," the NIA source said, refusing to divulge the details of the evidence. To help the operation, PFI had pooled in financial resources from their bases in five districts in the state, the NIA source alleged.

"The question we dealt with was, how the PFI could gather resources so quickly for any given activities. And if resources could be pooled in for a murder, could it be gathered for terror activities too? And this resulted in a decision to look at all of PFI's affiliates," the source explained. Meaning, the murder of Nettaru allowed the NIA to look at PFI's mobilisation process.

However, a case in Nizamabad that the Telangana police started probing in July 2022, is what gave cause for quicker action against the PFI.

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How a Telangana 'Arms Case' Widened the Search

An NIA source told The Quint, "In Nizamabad, the police was already probing a case where PFI members were accused of giving weapons training to attack members of other religions. We took over the case because an organisation giving arms training to attack others on the basis of religion can be considered a threat to national security."

As many as 27 persons were arrested by the Telangana police to probe a PFI-linked arms training camp on 4 July 2022. It is alleged that PFI affiliated persons were training youth to use lethal weapons including knives and sickles.
Both Karnataka and Telangana police contributed to help the NIA crackdown on Popular Front of India.

Stills from a PFI protest.

(File Photo)

The NIA took over the case in the end of August 2022. As per the remand report filed by the NIA, the case was taken over because the agency was convinced that an offence that has "ramifications on national security" was committed.

The remand report read, "It was also revealed from examination of witnesses that the 'Physical Efficiency' classes were nothing but training the cadres of Popular Front of India (PFI) in identifying and killing the persons belonging to a particular group by using knives, iron rods, sickles etc."

The participants were instigated to commit offences against the government of India, judiciary and persons of other religious communities, the remand report accused.
Both Karnataka and Telangana police contributed to help the NIA crackdown on Popular Front of India.

The PFI ban comes shortly after the NIA, in a joint operation with other central agencies, raided PFI's offices and members' residences across the country for allegedly supporting terror activities. 

(Photo: PTI)

The NIA source, however, said that the agency was keen on the case also because of it wanted to know how the PFI was funding such activities. "It was found necessary to get the Enforcement Directorate involved because money was flowing in from somewhere to fund illegal activities and we had to find the source," the official said.

The Telangana case opened a window to look at inter-state activities of the PFI, as it was believed the funding came from affiliated organisations of the outfit. "These affiliated organisations helped PFI's operations across India. And this network is believed to have warranted a search and arrest operation," the NIA officer said.

However, the NIA has not yet revealed what evidence they have against the PFI functionaries who were arrested in September. "The cases are under investigation. We have made progress in both Praveen Nettaru murder case and also the Telangana case," the NIA official said.

The Quint has reached out to former PFI activists for a response on the NIA allegations and the article will be updated when they respond. Two former PFI activists refused comment.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Telangana   KARNATAKA   NIA 

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